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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Ebertfest 2008 report #2: I'm Better in Print

Posted Friday, April 25, 2008, at 12:52 AM

(Photo)
Marshall's Andrew D. Wells and Chicago Sun Times columnist and television film critic Richard Roeper at the 10th Annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival in Champaign, Ill.
The difficult thing about the Roger Ebert Film Festival is that everyone involved is so passionate about films that little time is ever allotted for anything else. Back in the festival's early days Ebert screened 14 films over the five day period. That's a pretty heavy load, escpecially considering that inbetween each screening he hosted a panel discussion with various filmmakers and experts involved in the films screened. This left little time for certain human needs such as the expulsion of waste or the consumption of nutritious foods, like hot dogs and nachos.

When Ebert made the big change to improve his diet, he cut the festival schedule down to 12 films, allowing the audience opportunity to hear the wisdom of the guests and properly sustain their diets. (Just for the record, I'm wolfing down a healthy Taco Bell Chili Cheese Burrito as I write this.) When Chaz Ebert welcomed the audience at the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign this afternoon, she mentioned how difficult it is for Roger to contain the festival to a mere 12 films. That explains why the festival is back up to 14 this year, 13 feature-lengths and one short.

As a blogger, I am interested in everything that goes on at the festival. This is probably the only festival where one can be in on everything. That also means I would like to speak with some of the festival guests. This is not an easy thing to do with the small amount of free time people have to take care of their bodily functions between screenings. I also suffer from this strange urge to watch all the movies from the balcony of the vast Virginia Thteare with most of the VIPs sitting below me on the mezzanine level. By the time I get downstairs all the stars have already scattered.

But today, after the first screening of "Delirious"--Tom DiCillo's 2006 film about a paparazzo played by Steve Buscemi--I was making my way back through the lobby with a fresh pen to take notes and there was Rufus Sewell (of "Dark City" and "The Illusionist") standing there talking to us regular Joes. Well, I ran up to get my camera and was still shocked that he was still in the lobby talking to people and posing for pictures. There was a bit of irony to be found in the fact that we had just watched a movie about photographers forcing their way into the personal lives of stars with their invasive tactics.

Anyway, I snapped a couple of flicks from a candid point of view while he spoke with other festival goers. They all came out horribly except for one in which Sewell himself came out horribly. I won't subject the poor fellow to the posting of an unflattering picture on some annonmous blogger's site. I could have reached out to talk to him, but he seemed to be wanting out of there after having spent a good twenty minutes talking to the fans. I could see he had friends waiting and didn't want to further impose on his time. This is my great weakness as a journalist, too much sympathy for the subject. Sewell claimed on the panel discussion for Wednesday's feature "Hamlet" that he was not involved in any projects at the moment, so maybe I'll catch up to him later in the week.

No sooner had I cursed myself for my inaction than I spotted Richard Roeper, of the show "At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper", speaking to some people in the corner of the lobby. Well, gosh darn it! I wasn't gonna let another one slip by me.

I approached the man at what seemed to be a convenient end to the conversation he was having. Then like some star-struck fool I start babbling some sort of introduction to myself. "I'm a critic too," I heard myself say. I might as well have called myself a mental patient. Roeper was gracious and said it was nice to meet me. Then I said something about how he had maintained the high standards of Gene Siskel when he took his place by Ebert's side on the show. Except what came out of my mouth was more like "You Siskel Good with Roger!" He was very flattered, but seemed to be trying to leave.

Now, might be a good time to just show you what the voice in my head was saying during the entire encounter. "Oh, man. You got to talk to him. Just try to sound normal. But he looks like he's trying to get somewhere. Maybe you should just let him go. But you gotta get a picture, man! Wait, what did you just say to him? 'You Good Siskel with Roger!'? What the ? Oh, he's leaving. He looks like he has to go to the bathroom. Damnit man, give the poor guy his dignity back. Did he just look with disdain at my New York Giants hat? Has he got a problem with the current World Champions of American football? Wha' he stiw sore about his Bears' wast Super Bowl appeawance? Awwww. What?! Just get the picture, man!"

Now to some this may sound like a simple case of being star-struck. But this is not that case with me. I don't get star-struck. I really couldn't care less if someone's a star or not. They're just people. And that is certainly the case here at Ebertfest, where everyone seems to be friends; no matter how many seconds ago they met. No, my problem is that I get people-struck. Anyone who knows me should know what I'm talking about. Me no do the talking to people thing so well. That's why I'm a writer and an actor. As a writer I can chose all the right words (or at least the ones I think are right) before I let anyone see them. As an actor the script is already written for me.

But I had to get the picture. And despite my social ineptitude, I even handed my camera to a complete stranger and demanded she take a picture of me and the man I am now calling my friend whether he knows it or not, Richard Roeper. I even managed to hand the guy my card and say, "I know you must get a lot of these, but if you're bored sometime, you should check out my blog." Because that's what I really did it for, the blog. Hell, if it weren't for the blog I would have just walked right past the poor sap and gone back to hide in my balcony like the proper hermit I am.

This was for you, my readers. I hope it gave you a thrill to see me with a film critic many of you won't recognize. Sorry, Richard, but that's probably true. I force this blog on a lot of people who just aren't as enthusiastic about film as me. But at least I try to make it fun for them. That's how I'm better in print.



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A Penny in the Well
ANDREW D. WELLS
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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